Chapter Five


This third step of the common sense management process is probably the most critical. It is here that you begin to challenge the very foundation of your institution and you begin to dream of what you want the institution to be in the future.

Direction setting typically involves three broad activities:

  1. Surveying past, present and prospective realities and potentialities.
  2. Identifying and testing alternative directions and profiles including their institutional and operational implications.
  3. Deciding on the direction and profile of the institution, periodically reviewing its legitimacy/viability, and communicating these in the form of mission, vision, goals, and objectives to key stakeholder groups.

The information gathered in steps 1 and 2, the external and internal market research steps, is used as input throughout the direction setting step.

Mission Review

You begin setting your institution's direction by conducting a brief review of your institution's purpose (its mission statement) and how the institution has changed over time. This should not be an exhaustive review. It is an informative activity.

With your review in hand see what you can document as to how the institution has changed over time. Look at how programs and services have changed, how institutional structure has changed, how financial support has changed, how employees and students have changed, and how facilities and equipment/technologies have changed.

If you can, try to determine what caused the major changes you have noted (e.g., changes in the demographics of your community or changes in state and/or federal legislation). From this analysis you should be able to determine whether the institution has been flexible and adapted to changing circumstances, or whether its experiences have resulted in institutional disruptions.

Impact of the Marketplace on the Institution

Following your historical review, look at today's environment (the STEEP analysis described in Chapter 3) and the forecasts of how the environment (the marketplace) might change over the next years. From this review you will be able to see if changes similar to those that have impacted the institution in the past are predicted. Through this process, you should be able to identify changes that will have implications for current operations. For example, if projections show that there will be a significant increase over the next ten years in the community's Asian and Hispanic populations, and if you are in a community college, you might see a need for increasing the number of English as a second language courses or the number of Asian and Hispanic faculty. Or you can look at how changes in the STEEP sector have implications for courses offered and how they are delivered (e.g., the need for distance learning).

From your market research look at what stakeholders have said about your institution's strengths and weaknesses. When you examine perceived weaknesses, determine how serious these views are and how they might be corrected. For example, if you are in a community college and local employers have expressed concern that your students are not prepared to enter the workforce or are not meeting their (employers') needs, look at the programs you are offering to see if they are doing what they are supposed to do. Also look at these programs in light of changes forecast in the workplace (e.g., the number of jobs that will be available in various industries). Determine if new programs are needed or if you should make changes in existing programs. Also look at what stakeholders say about what your institution needs to do and how changes in the STEEP sector have implications for courses offered and how they are delivered (e.g., the need for distance learning).

From these analyses you will get an idea how the institution has changed and how it might have to change to be responsive to both stakeholder concerns as well as to changes in the external environment.

Developing a More Ideal Institution

It is now the time to take a leap forward. Craft a vision statement: a description of what you want the institution to be at a specified time in the future (normally 5 to 10 years out). It can also be a statement of what you want the organization to accomplish by a specific time.

For example, the 1992 strategic vision of Delaware Community College (Media, PA) 1992 states:

In carrying out its mission….the College's enrollment is expected to grow substantially in size and diversity (by year 2000). The College's physical, human, and financial resources will be expanded in scope and reach in order to accommodate the anticipated growth. The College will be regarded as a vital partner working cooperatively with other educational providers linking them to leverage our combined capabilities and resources. The College will also be widely recognized for its educational quality and for its organizational values which are manifest in its Total Quality culture and the quality of its graduates. DCCC graduates will be competent in their fields of study and proficient in the general educational skills required to succeed in the new information age of the 90's and beyond.

Another example, Truckee Meadows Community College (Reno, NV) 1997 strategic vision states:

Truckee Meadows Community College will become the nexus for life-long learning for all members of the community. Truckee Meadows Community College faculty will accredit and guarantee learning, skill acquisition, employability skills and quality. Truckee Meadows Community College will provide lower division transfer curriculum, student services, and continuous training programs for the workforce. With the development and accessibility to information systems and networks (interactive learning), the community college will provide customized quality learning at any location, at any time, for any level of readiness, and in flexible learning environments.

Mission Revision

Once the vision has been crafted you want to review your existing mission statement to see if it is still relevant for the institution you want to have in the future. If not, then you will need to revise the mission statement.

Remember that a mission statement is usually fairly short in length. It basically describes: (1) what the organization is to do, (2) to whom, and with (3) what expected outcome.

For example, using the previously cited institutions:

The mission of Delaware Community College is to offer educational programs and services which are accessible, comprehensive, community-centered, and flexible in order to enhance the development of the communities and residents of its service area.

Truckee Meadows Community College: To develop our communities' diverse human potential.

Setting Up for Vision Achievement: Issues Determination

Once a vision has been crafted and your mission revised or affirmed, you are ready to begin a process to determine what might be the barriers or accelerators to achievement of your vision. We normally call this process issues management.

As the White House Foresight Task Force noted in 1982, an issue can be defined as a trend, event, or development that is:

  1. likely to have impact on the organization's performance
  2. something to which the organization must respond by systematically marshaling its collective resources
  3. one that the organization might reasonably expect to exert some influence over the outcome.

The goal of the issues process is early warning/early response so than an issue's positive potential can be encouraged/enhanced and its negative potential can be discouraged/inhibited. The objective therefore is to identify an issue in its early stages of development before options are narrowed and liabilities expanded. The earlier an issue is identified and dealt with, the more successful the institution.

In the broad social context, issues like products and industries are subject to lifecycle principles moving though emerging, developing, maturing and declining stages. Or as Ian Wilson, formerly of General Electric, once put it from the private sector perspective: "The societal concerns of yesterday become the political issues of today, the legislative requirements of tomorrow, and the litigated penalties of the day after." Figures 5-1 and 5-2 provide a pictorial representative of the issue life cycle and an example of the 70's issue of equal opportunity that illustrates Wilson's description of a lifecycle.

Figure 5-1
Figure 5-1. Life Cycle of a Strategic Issue

Figure 5-2
Figure 5-2. Issues of the 1970s

Issues for higher education are drawn from the information gathered from the market research steps of this process. The original list of issues may be very lengthy; you will need to pare the number down to those five to seven issues that are the most critical for your institution.

The first step in paring down a long list of issues is to examine the issue statements for duplicity (i.e., statements phrased differently but are inherently the same issue). Look as well for statements that are subparts of a larger issue. Combine these into a new broader issue statement.

From here the simplest way to pare down a long list of issues is to have a group rank order them from the most critical to the least critical. However, this approach is one-dimensional and does not take into account the time frame in which the issue may become critical or the probability of the issue becoming a critical issue. Thus a preferred approach to the paring down process would be a group exercise to do just that. See Appendix 8 for an illustration of this approach.

Once pared down, you must frame the issues for study. This is often done by special task forces whose responsibility is to develop a one to three page paper on each issue. The issue papers cover the following topics:

Title and definition--a succinct one sentence statement of the issue.

Example: The growing Hispanic population.

Background and driving influences--the present and future key environmental forces and organizational shortcomings and competencies that make it a critical issue.

Example: In our community, the Hispanic population will grow from a present 3% of the population to 25% over the next ten years. Currently Hispanics make up only 1% of our faculty and we have no English as a second language (ESL) programs.

Funding for educational programs from the state have been cut and are forecast to improve only slightly over the next five years. The community turned down the state bond issue for new facilities last year and the mood for any new issue is not good.

Strategic significance--the challenges and opportunities the issue presents to the organization.

Example: The challenges are how to install ESL programs and increase the number of Spanish speaking faculty in a time of economic frugality. If this is not done, the organization faces a high probability of community unrest and anti-institution feelings.

The opportunity exists to work with the current Hispanic community leadership to find solutions to this problem.

Planning challenges--develop a list of "need to do" statements outlining the overall actions the organization must take in order to meet the challenges presented by each issue.

Example: We need to identify the leaders of the local Hispanic population. The organization must develop programs other than ESL to meet the needs of the Hispanic students other than ESL.

In summary, establishing strategic direction requires an awareness of how the institution has changed over time. It confirms or redefines the institution's mission statement, develops a vision of what the institution should be in the future and identifies the challenges to accomplishment of that future state. Figure 5-3 provides a graphic representation of the direction-setting process.

Figure 5-3
Figure 5-3. The direction-setting process